Creepy crawlers. Glistening, red, wiggly wigglers breeding in your basement. No matter what you think of worms, most of us don’t want them in our house, eating our food. Yet a growing swath of gardeners are realizing that a key to lush, vibrant crops lies in worm composting.

Setting up a worm den in your basement is one way to harvest your own worm manure, a natural fertilizer that enriches vegetable gardens, flower gardens and blueberries.

“I am fascinated by it. I’ve decided to take it on for the rest of my life,” vermiculturalist Jock Robie, a Gorham retiree who swears by the science, said.

He will teach a workshop on worm bin harvesting Thursday, Feb. 18, at Merryspring Nature Center in Camden. During the workshop, in addition to educating on worm dens, he will also teach people how to make worm tea: “The liquid form of the good stuff,” he said, which has the same epic effect on soil.

Robie has been involved in vermiculture for several years. In 2008 he started experimenting with worm waste, called casting, and result were immediate.

“We grow great vegetables. Our kale plants are 5 feet high, they look like little trees,” he said. “Brussel sprouts, lettuce, beans, corn, highbush blueberries — they all like the castings.”

This natural fertilizer makes plants more robust and disease resistant.

“If you compost with worms, you have a higher amount of microbes, so you get a different product,” Robie said. “Plants grow more robustly with more vigor.”

More and more green thumbs in Maine are hooked on the results. Is this the secret of organic master gardeners?

“I think there a lot of gardeners looking for new ways to keep gardening healthy without using chemical fertilizer,” said Brett Willard, program director at Merryspring Nature Center, who says vermiculture is on the rise on the midcoast.

Beyond great blooms, worm composting cuts down on kitchen waste and reduces waste overall.

A worm den is a plastic 10-gallon tote, which Robie calls a “modified aquarium for worms.” People toss plant-based compost from their kitchen — not meat, fish or dairy — and the cycle begins.

“As it’s broken down by microbes, they excrete cast, which is worm manure. It’s collected every three or four months and used immediately in your garden,” Robie said.

Although many gardeners embraced worms in their gardens, master vermiculture takes skill and practice.

“Many have tried this and failed,” Robie said, citing fly infestations or worse — a parade of worms crawling across the kitchen floor. “I want people to be successful. Through my coaching I have seen more successes than failures.”

The worm bin harvesting workshop is 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 18, Merryspring Nature Center, Camden. It’s free to attend.

Kathleen Pierce

A lifelong journalist with a deep curiosity for what's next. Interested in food, culture, trends and the thrill of a good scoop. BDN features reporter based in Portland since 2013.